The Secret Lives of Color

This is the kind of book I feel I should have on my shelf. It is full of stories that can act as inspiration, new words to liven up my writing, and background on things I never thought to think about, such as why we name colors the way we do and whether what we call taupe today is what people 200 hundred years ago called taupe (partly I’ve never asked this question because I’ve never used the word taupe and couldn’t have guessed what color it was until I read this book).

My only complaint is that it was too short. I wanted more detail for many of the colors and I wanted more shades of each one. She recommends other books at the end and I think I’ll be picking up some of those recommendations.

All In review

I finished this book a few days ago but have struggled to write this review. Why? I just don’t like reading book reviews. Too many simply summarize the book and sprinkle in a few vague statements about how good (or bad) it was. The good reviews give a unique perspective on the author, background on the book, or some interesting connection the review’s author has to the book.

I don’t have much to offer related to the author or book. Even though All In was published 7 years ago, I didn’t know it existed until a few weeks ago. But I did find myself in this book.

I connected with All In because it is a book for dads who are dissatisfied with how society in general is approaching dad-dom. (Hm, in my head “dad-dom” sounds better than fatherhood, but I’m not sure it works written out. Dadom? Daddom? The realm of the masculine figure in the household.)

That focus on dissatisfaction drove me a little crazy for parts of the book, which is ironic, because Mr. Levs spent so much time trying to argue we should feel more positive about everything related to fatherhood! Which is why I kept reading.

As I read the book, I found myself wanting to be a better father, to be “all in.” I found myself thinking of the ways that I hold back. How it’s so much work to get my kids out of the house to do things, so we stay home too much. How it’s harder to make dinner or do a chore with their help, so I find a way to distract them so I can do my stuff. How I am reluctant to answer a question because the incessant stream of questions that will follow that first answer.

But the book reminded me, again and again, of how rewarding being all in is. How showing my children the wonders of the world is something I won’t get a second chance at. How teaching them to care for themselves and their space is one of the most important skills I can share. How feeding their curiosity encourages them to keep asking questions when all the easy ones have been answered.

The focus of the book is on the challenges our culture and laws throw before fathers: the lack of paternal leave; stigmas that discourage fathers from taking it; the stereotypes of clueless dads; fear of men. I’ve faced some of these.

One of the reasons I am a stay-at-home dad rather than a part-time professional is because it is very difficult to be a part-time professional in our society. Careers, daycare, etc. are often built around the schedule of fulltime workers. For a brief time, both my wife and I worked. We took our oldest daughter, then about 2, to a daycare for part of the day. We wanted her home most the day, so I picked her up at lunch time. Unfortunately, she was the only one who didn’t stay until later. She felt isolated because of that. The social isolation and the cost didn’t seem worth it. I was fortunate that my wife had a well-paying job that she enjoyed.

The result has been that I’ve entered a world dominated by women. Schools and daycares default to calling my wife (despite the fact that they interact with me nearly daily and often haven’t met her), the majority of Tiktok and Instagram parenting accounts address moms, and it can be a little uncomfortable at storytime or the park during the day. If I walk up to that group of moms and try to start chatting, will they include me in the conversation? If I comfort one of their kids, will they assume I’m a creep?

But I came away from the book encouraged and hopeful, because there are fathers like Mr. Levs – and many others he interviewed for the book – who are all in. They are working to raise their children to be good people. They are also working to erase the barriers they have faced as fathers. I want to be all in on that aspect, too.

Fathers need paternal leave. All working parents need paid family leave. We need more support for parents – we need cities and transit systems built around families. We need jobs and childcare designed for working parents. We need more men on the playgrounds, in the day cares, at storytime. If we want women to be more equal in the boardroom, we need men to be more equal at home. One thing I want to do is explore how we can better do these things. All In encouraged me not just to be a better father, but also do the work to help other men do the same.

The Lord of the Rings review

It’s been almost 25 years since I first tried reading The Lord of the Rings. It’s been a little less time since I actually did. They aren’t exactly written for 5th graders.

This is, if I’m remembering correctly, my fourth time through all three, though I read The Fellowship of the Ring at least twice before I finished the others. You may suspect I’m a bit of a history nerd.

I regret waiting so long to reread them. The last time I made visited Middle Earth was before The Return of the King came out in theaters. I listened to the audiobook this go-around (Rob Inglis did a great job, though I hear the Andy Serkis version is excellent, as well). One sign that I was reading a master work: when I sat down to read a different book on my Kindle, I found the prose by this other, fairly popular fantasy writer left much to be desired.

But you’ll feel I’ve wasted your time if I just tell you how great the books are. Here are a few observations, in no particular order:

Tolkien was a bit feminist, or at least more than I remembered.

There’s plenty of evidence for the alternative. If you’d asked me recently whether the “I am no man” line was Tolkien or the screenwriters, I would have laid money on the screenwriters. Nope! It’s not a direct quote, but it’s pretty close. Tolkien may not have included any women in the Council of Elrond or in the Fellowship, but I think his words of praise for Galadriel – emphasizing not just her beauty, but also her strength and power – as well as Éowyn’s role as a shieldmaiden undermine the patriarchy within the book. There are so many examples of misogyny from the decade these books were published, particularly in the genres neighboring The Lord of the Rings, it’s nice to be reminded that Madeline L’Engle was a friend of Tolkien.

Tolkien supported indigenous people keeping their land.

I don’t know Tolkien’s actual politics, but one thing comes through clearly: he believed it was ideal for people with vastly different cultures to inhabit neighboring lands in peace. The enmity between elves and dwarves is a symptom of civilizational degeneration. Aragorn, as king, promises the wild men of the forest that they will be left in peace. The main protagonists – the Hobbits – are simply trying to live in their land peacefully. Their final battle, and the one that most strongly hints at Tolkein’s politics, involves driving out colonizing capitalist bandits.

Sam is the real hero of the story.

I know I’m not the first to make this observation (apparently Tolkien himself did). This is fairly evident from the events of Return of the King, especially the end. Sam was the only ring-bearer who willingly gave up the ring. He carried Frodo the last steps up Mount Doom. And the book ends with Sam returning home, sitting down with his wife, and saying, “I’m back.”

The Lord of the Rings is post-apocalyptic.

Throughout the story the characters are traveling through the ruins of and learning the stories about the older fallen civilization. They use objects which they do not understand and cannot use. Their victory at the end is beautiful but is still a sad step towards the oblivion that awaits all the beautiful things in Middle Earth.

I still love these books, even after the fourth reading and everything that has changed in my life since I first read them is a sixth grader. If you have only seen the movies, I highly recommend the books. The first one is slow if you don’t love learning background info, but the others are a little more action-oriented (though only in comparison). I think we would do well to be a little more like hobbits.

My Abortion Bill

Given that

Here is my brainstorm on how we can decrease the number of abortions and encourage a life-honoring culture. These ideas can be enacted in both blue states and red, regardless of the current legal status of abortion.


  • Offer hormonal birth control over the counter.
  • Provide sex-ed courses that emphasize contraceptives and consent.
  • Review, reform, and improve enforcement of laws punishing non-consensual sex.
  • Invest in research for improved birth control methods, particularly male birth control.


  • Job security
    1. At least six weeks paid family leave for all employees.
    2. Prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy or parental status.
    3. Review and revise laws to ensure that fathers receive the same incentives to care for children that mothers do.
  • Healthcare
    1. Invest in maternal health centers in population centers with the worst maternal death rates.
    2. Maternal care funding for all women below a certain income level.
    3. Fund early childhood medical care.
    4. Set up a health commission for improving maternal health outcomes.
  • Childcare
    1. Pass and fund a child payment plan (such as Senator Romney’s).
    2. Invest in childcare centers in low-income communities.
    3. Revise laws that may discourage multi-generational households, i.e. prohibit zoning laws and HOA rules that prohibit non-nuclear-family households.
  • Education
    1. Expand public schools to include pre-k programs, including funding for new buildings and teachers
    2. Create incentives for school districts to increase teacher pay before investing in any other infrastructure.

Stephen Sondheim

Celebrity deaths I have noted: Leonard Nemoy, Carrie Fisher, Chuck Yeager, Sean Connery, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The list goes on. I haven’t personally known any of these people, but each has contributed in some way to something I love. I was sad to hear of their passing. Then Stephen Sondheim passed away and I found myself, for the first time, crying over the death of someone I didn’t know. What was going on?

I’m not really a Stephen Sondheim fan. I don’t dislike his work; I don’t know most of it. I saw the 1961 movie adaptation of “West Side Story” once and have heard the music as often as any American. I know a little about “Sweeney Todd.” But then there is “Into the Woods.”

I first heard “Into the Woods” around 20 years ago. My sister was working on a project for one of her classes; it was a paper or report on “Into the Woods.” She had the CD and as she listened to it, I picked up the booklet inside the CD cover and started reading. I found a little masterclass on storytelling inside. I learned about the power of symbols (such as the woods). I learned how protagonists stand in the audience’s place. I learned that many of the most interesting stories explore beyond “happy ever after.”

I returned to the music and listened as the characters traveled into the woods and accomplished their goals. The music was fun. It was nice to see how the characters met their challenges. It was satisfying to see them reach their happy ever after. But that was only the first act.

The challenges of life didn’t stop. New ones, heart-breaking ones, arose. The play ends on a more ambiguous, but far more powerful note. Characters have been betrayed. Some have died. It’s a lonelier and sadder ending, but those who are there at the end keep going. They help each other. They’ve found each other in the woods.

I didn’t get it all back then. But I loved it. I listened to that CD many, many times. When a local theater put on a production and one of the actresses (who went to church with my family) invited us, I happily went. Seeing the play in person was even better. Not only did I hear all the dialogue that wasn’t on the CD, but I was also introduced to a trope I love – the narrator interacting with the characters and the audience.

Over the years I’ve continued to listen to “Into the Woods,” but I’ve never explored any other Stephen Sondheim work. Up until last week, I would have just said “Into the Woods” was a musical I really enjoyed.

Then I heard the news of his passing. “How sad,” I thought. As I read the tributes online, people quoting his most powerful lines, sharing how he touched their lives, my eyes kept filling with tears. Why? I didn’t understand why.

“The Daily” podcast episode from December 3, which may have brought the most tears, helped me answer that question. In it the theater critic, Jesse Green, spent a few moments towards the end explaining “Finishing the Hat.” They play a part of the song (which I hadn’t heard before) and then explain how it explores an artist’s dedication to art, despite the cost. It capped a discussion of how Stephen Sondheim loved the art he was creating and valued it and encouraged others to produce art. His message? It’s worth it.

Which brings me back to the question: why did Stephen Sondheim’s death cause a casual fan grief? The best I can explain it, “Into the Woods” has given shape to my desire to be a storyteller. Reading that CD cover 20 years ago started a journey that I’ve only recently accepted as mine. Stephen Sondheim’s efforts to reimagine old stories, his ability to explore the complexities of life with nuance, his effort to elevate his artform have all stuck with me.

As I listened to the Daily’s exploration of Sondheim’s work, I thought about my own doubts. I have a law degree. I have kids to take care of. I never even actually wrote a draft of a book until a couple of years ago. Does the world need another writer? Does this really make sense?

Stephen Sondheim was telling me, yes. I spent 7 years studying economics, philosophy, and law. That was valuable time I spent trying to find meaning in the world around me, figuring out why it is shaped the way it is. And now it’s time for me to share that journey with others, to help them find meaning.

Maybe you’re rolling your eyes. Books are just entertainment, right?

Or maybe not. Is that just my inner critic?

Stories are all we have to make sense of the world. So, I’m doing it. I’m making a hat. Because I know things now I hadn’t known before. I know that Stephen Sondheim, without ever knowing I existed, helped nurture a love of stories in my heart. He showed me that stories can shape lives. I hope to someday produce something that can shape another’s life.

A word on weight

I’ve usually been pretty comfortable with my weight. For most of my life, it wasn’t something I thought about much, which is a reflection of viewing myself as medium-size. I’ve always known people who were smaller and people who were larger. Of course, whether I actually was medium-size is up for debate. I also thought I was tall for a while, because I was tall in 8th grade. My college roommate (who had been shorter than me in 8th grade) disabused me of that notion. This lesson has stuck with me: my perception about myself can be pretty flawed.

Right now I weigh less than I have for the last 5 years (and probably longer. This is just as long as I’ve had a scale in my house). I have mixed feelings about sharing this with the world. For one thing, I’ve never been big on dieting. I was raised in a home that didn’t focus much on outward appearance. The impact of our eating on our weight was never discussed (that I remember).

My parents taught us the typical lessons learned from their depression-era parents: be grateful for what you have, eat what’s available, and finish your plate. Both working and raising 7 kids, the meals they made needed to fill two criteria: most of us needed to eat them and they needed to be relatively quick to make. We had lots of processed foods, but there were always fresh fruits and vegetables (not always served with the meal, but they were in the house).

I think my parents did pretty good threading the needle of a society obsessed with thinness and saving time (a combination leading to our obsession with both fast food and fad dieting). That said, there are some things I’ve learned since getting married and being introduced to a different family’s food culture.

First, how to recognize when I’m full. Until recently, my main gauge was whether I’d eaten more than everyone else. After all, men are supposed to eat the most, right? But as I’ve tried to imitate my wife – who is very good at listening to her body – I’ve begun to recognize that I won’t waste away if I stop eating before I feel uncomfortable. Second, breakfast doesn’t come with fruits or veggies. I’m still struggling with this one. My time in Australia actually revealed to me the fact that American breakfast is just an excuse to start the day with dessert. At one of the first activities I attended after I arrived, the Elders’ Quorum (the congregation’s men’s group) played basketball and had pancakes. At 10 in the morning, that seemed sensible to me. Then they served the pancakes with ice cream on top. I was surprised and when I said so, they said, “Pancakes are a dessert, so why not put ice cream on top?” And, well, I’ve couldn’t gainsay them. Third, carbs are not the base of the food pyramid. Why they were placed there in government messaging is a topic for another post, but most of a meal should be fruits and veggies. My favorite guide for how much of various categories to put on your plate is here. Once again, my wife’s example has helped a lot here. Though there is a little part of me that’s sad I’m not baking more often.

Thanks for reading a likely somewhat boring, oddly personal post. This was me priming my brain for writing my novel (which will be less boring, I promise…I hope).

Every word here is a word not in my novel…

So I’ll keep this short. I have written every day of November so far, but yesterday was the only day I hit the word count necessary to hit 50k by the end of the month. It takes focus and determination and some sacrifice. And I’m also trying to build a paver patio in my backyard…. My brain and my body will be very sore for the next few weeks, I think.

Well, back to it. Need to hit 2000 words today to start getting back on track and I’m 174 words in.

NaNoWriMo 2021

One month. 50,000 words. 3rd time.

I have an outline, some characters, and some world details fleshed out; which is far more prep than for either of the previous two novels I wrote.

Today I need 1667 words. Wish me luck!

Choose Parenthood: No other success can compensate for failure in the home

The other day Alisha and I were watching The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. We read the book (I recommend) and thought we’d enjoy the film. I did, up until the mom was interrupted in some task to clean up the poop her toddler had smeared all over the living room. Too real.

I was (and still am) in the midst of potty-training my 3 year-old and have a toddler in diapers. I’ve got housework that kids are always interrupting. It simply was not enjoyable for me to watch a film about someone dealing with the same things.

Of course, no one’s going to write a book or make a film about my life. Alisha isn’t a deadbeat alcoholic spending all her earnings before she gets home. I have an advanced degree, meaning I don’t have to resort to the whims of contest judges to support my kids, should the need arise.

What about that advanced degree, though?

Let me bring you back to ten years ago this month. Alisha and I arrived in Austin, ready for the next big step in our lives. I had dreams of clerking for a judge and maybe becoming a judge myself someday. Whatever the end, law school was about to start and I was excited for this step that I had worked toward for years. Alisha had a good job and would work through law school to cut down on our debt load.

A few times during law school and since, some decision points have come in which I made a decision many men do not make. I prioritized caregiving. Now, I never planned to be the primary caregiver for my children. If I’d had different job opportunities, there’s a good chance my daily schedule would look very different than it does now. But life worked out the way it did and I’ve learned some powerful lessons because of that.

At the core is this: for the sake of women, children, families, and men, we need men to step up in the home.

Men belong in the home

I grew up in a conservative community, yet my parents modeled a non-conservative partnership. My parents each worked full-time. Even though this was my day-to-day reality, I perceived our family as a sort of aberration. The ideal was 1950s America – the father should be the sole breadwinner and the mother should be the caregiver and homemaker. But because my mother worked as a nurse, my dad would cook, clean, and take care of kids when he was able. Of course, since he commuted for hours everyday, in reality my siblings and I did a lot of that work.

This equal partnership in my parents marriage – sharing the burden of housework, meals, and childcare – modeled behavior that is healthier for everyone. My mother has lived a fulfilling life because she has pursued the dream she had since she was 9 – to be a nurse. My siblings and I have a healthy relationship with my father because he was present and involved in our lives. My father never was under the illusion that it was ok to come home from work and sit down in front of the tv while there were dishes to be done or floors that needed cleaning. I attribute a lot of the success my siblings and I have had to my father present in our home.

I’m not saying that I think women should all have careers outside the home. What I am saying is that being present at home should be automatic for men the way it is for many women.

A father is a father first

We often think of women as mothers first and if they have a career, that’s a nice bonus. Men, on the other hand, have a career first and are fathers second. If the man doesn’t have a career, he’s falling short. This is wrong! I often grew up hearing the phrase, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” If only we truly believed that! If it were so, we would be less judgmental of men who truly prioritize their children.

Now, I will point out that I personally have received nothing but support. No one has, that I am aware of, ever accused me of being lazy or somehow neglecting my duties as a man. But years of cultural indoctrination have made it difficult for me to fully accept my current role in life, free of guilt. Maybe this is a me problem. But if you happen to share this problem, welcome to the club! You and I, we’re still doing our part! Our work at home is just as important to society as any work we could do in an office.

If we do believe this, it should reflect in our legal and corporate policies. Paternal leave should be just as common as maternal. Fathers should be expected to scale back their work when they have young children. Peter Panning from Hook should be the exception, not the rule. No corporation should demand that workers put the company first. There are certainly some moves toward this, but we have a lot of work left to do.

Men need to share the mental burden

While I was still in law school I learned first hand some of the cultural norms I’d internalized, despite the household I grew up in. We had our first child in the middle of my second year. When it was time for Alisha to return to work, she spent a great deal of time thinking about childcare for our daughter. I gave some input, but largely left it up to her. She eventually brought up that we had never discussed who should be in charge of childcare. I’d simply assumed she would take care of it. There is a little personality at play here – Alisha is more of a planner than I am. But enough women have written about this topic in the years since that I know there’s more to it than just our individual quirks.

To have a truly equal partnership, men and women need to share the mental burden. That doesn’t mean that men should always be picking the daycare. It does mean that parents need to discuss it and figure out who will take the lead. I’ve tried to be better about this since those early childcare days. I still have room for improvement, but I think I’ve gotten better over the years, more often considering questions about childcare, child-rearing, and other traditionally women-led topics.

My parents never set out to defy tradition or to be revolutionary. Neither did I. We simply did what we needed to so that we had enough to eat and a place to sleep. The result actually looks a lot like most of history – men and women doing what is necessary to provide for the family, care for the children, and maintain their house. While the sole breadwinner nuclear family can be an incredible privilege, it is exactly that – a privilege. For most people, it is out-of-reach. A healthier, more universally obtainable approach is for the adults in the home to discuss how they will earn an income and divide the housework and childcare.

The ideal American family should be one in which the couple communicate openly and often about how they will share their roles as providers, parents, and homemakers. For many people, that may look a lot more like Leave it to Beaver than my childhood and current home. The exact division of labor isn’t what’s important. What matters is that men are involved in the lives of their spouses and their children and are truly living the reality that success in the home is the greatest contribution to society they can make.

Now I better stop neglecting my children…

Meet Your Enemies

Ezra Booth, an early convert to Joseph Smith and the Restored Church, became disillusioned after only a few months. He wrote letters to a newspaper that resulted in a public backlash against Joseph Smith and the missionaries he was sending to the surrounding area. In December 1831, Joseph Smith received direction from God to stop working on a translation of the Bible and try to undo some of the harm of the letters. Here are some of my thoughts about the instructions God gave them in what is now Doctrine and Covenants 61.

“Meet your enemies”

Joseph was commanded to meet his enemies in public and in private. We can meet our enemies – or those who disagree with a cause we support – by being open to discussion with them. No matter how important our cause or how dedicated we are, this is valuable. If we understand the position of those who disagree with us, we are better equipped to strengthen or adjust our own position to achieve better outcomes and convince more people to join us.

Of course, we should be wise in who we choose to engage with. We shouldn’t feed the trolls. The trick is learning to distinguish between the trolls and those open to discussion. Fortunately, in my experience the trolls reveal themselves early on. Holding back to my own troll-like tendencies and disengaging from those time-wasting conversations is the next challenge.

“Confound your enemies…their shame shall be made manifest”

Our cause cannot convince if we don’t speak up. To remain silent is to let our enemies define us. But I think the phrasing of the second part is vital. “Their shame shall be made manifest” is not a call to shame others. It is a statement that as we speak truth, error will be revealed. We do not need to help it along by calling people out, tricking them, embarrassing them, or seeking to ruin their life in some way. Clever memes aren’t going to win the day. Doxxing and bullying are bad regardless of who the target is. Truth will win the day as long as we speak it – and it will take time.

“Let them bring their strong reasons”

A conversation is not a lecture. Recognizing that our enemies are fully developed human beings – thinking, feeling people who have reasons for believing what they do – God tells us here to listen to those reasons. And not just in a condescending, “let them have their say” way. He says, “Let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord.” We need to listen to and recognize the best reasons against our cause. Our own faith is only as strong as the strongest arguments against it we have acknowledged. If we refuse to hear and ponder “their strong reasons,” then we are simply closing our eyes to potential truth. One of my favorite thoughts on this comes from a forum – one I did not save a link to, so this is my attempted paraphrase – “If we come across evidence that conflicts with our interpretation of scripture, then it is our interpretation of scripture that must change.” The truth isn’t changing – our attempt to understand it is.

Words are an imprecise means of conveying ideas. We shouldn’t be surprised that we have, at times, failed to understand the ideas passed down to us from previous generations. I believe that there is an ultimate, universal truth out there. But I also believe it can be really, really hard to identify and communicate. I’m struggling to arrive at that truth and convey my understanding of it in a way that brings along as many people as possible.